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Big Love: The Writing on the Wall

by Meredith O'Brien, posted Jun 19th 2007 12:41PM

Jeanne Tripplehorn(S02E2) Poor Barb.

While reeling from cancer treatment years ago, she agreed to let her husband Bill plunge the pair into polygamy, even though she really wasn't keen on the notion.

Then she was publicly humiliated when her family's polygamy became quasi-public and she was disqualified from a state Mother of the Year contest. Ashamed, she withdrew from the world in order to figure out where she fit in her own life. Although she toyed with the idea of leaving the polygamist Henrickson clan, she finally agreed to continue playing "boss wife" because she truly loves Bill, and her sister wives.

But as a condition of returning to the fold of Bill's multiple wives, Barb said she wanted to go back to college. And in doing so she became, as Bill said, "aglow." In a scene from the second episode of the second season, Barb was sitting in the University of Utah courtyard as students bustled around about her, and she looked wistful and serene. In between classes, she visited Bill at his Home Plus HQ and breathlessly told him, "It's been the best day of my life Bill. I love being back at the U."

Then she was harshly sucked back into reality where she is but one spouse amidst the masses. She and Bill learned that they forgot Bill and Nicki's anniversary. (Bill, of course, blamed Barb for forgetting to remind him.) And, with a single cell phone call from Margene telling them that Nicki was upset, Barb blew off the remainder of "the best day" of her life in order to make Nicki lamb chops, strawberries and a coconut cake. It was as if Barb's half day of getting to live her life on her own terms was just a blip on the radar screen. And for that, I felt sad. However I remain convinced that Barb isn't done trying to liberate herself from a situation she entered into only because the love of her life asked her to. I predict that every little slight, every little chipping away of Barb's attempts to regain control over her own life will come back to haunt Bill in one form or another.

The differences between Barb's view of this polygamous marriage and the other wives' perspectives was crystal clear from the odd conversation she had with Nicki at the end of the episode. After the two women professed their love for one another, Nicki said, "I didn't marry for love, I married for the principle." To which Barb replied: "I tried. I don't know that I have a testimony for the principle . . .[but] I love our family more and more." (Foreshadowing?) Barb is caught between her true affection for Nicki and Margene and the children, and the fact that she isn't living the lifestyle she really wants.

Also in this week's episode, Bill finally paid a price for this lifestyle and for unwisely making himself the face of his Home Plus stores. One of the home improvement store's new billboards in a highly trafficked location was defaced. A spray paint wielding vandal changed the slogan from "Home Plus is us," to, "Home Plus is us + us + us + us." Bill -- who couldn't quite allow himself to consider that perhaps his polygamy made him a questionable spokesman for Home Plus -- was drawn to the defaced sign throughout the day, as he stood there, gazing up at it as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. When he and his fellow Home Plus polygamist Don finally got some people to paint over the graffiti, Bill said, "I feel trapped . . . I just want a normal existence without retribution." Is he for real or just deluding himself? This retribution was extremely mild and I'm shocked this has been the only response to the debacle at the Utah Mother of the Year contest. I envisioned the local newspaper reporters getting a hold of this story and going with it, particularly because Bill is linked to the polygamist compound run by the cult-like leader Roman Grant, who also happens to be Bill's father-in-law. Talk about a juicy news story. Bill should count his lucky stars that a little spray paint is, thus far, his only public admonishment.

As for the compound, well, this is my least favorite aspect of Big Love. While I'm riveted by the relationship between the three Henrickson wives, Juniper Creek seems like a foreign place to me, another country, where Roman Grant is akin to a war lord who tells people who they can marry and who they can't, who assigns unwilling girls to be the spouses of wrinkly old men. The compound gives me the creeps.

The big development in this episode was that Alby Grant, who was poisoned by the unstable Wanda Henrickson (Bill's sister-in-law), defied his father Roman and went to the state police when Roman refused to penalize those responsible for his poisoning. (Roman instead blackmailed Joey Henrickson into doing his bidding on the compound's governing board.) This led state cops to Joey and Wanda's door, where Joey, in a brave attempt to save his wife, confessed to the poisoning. Like with Barb, I feel for Joey's character as he seems like yet another pawn, a quiet, nice guy who's pushed around and influenced by more powerful people who are promoting their own interests.

I've been waiting for the impact of the poisoning incident to finally reach the Sandy, Utah home. This week was the first time (that I could recall) where Nicki actually discussed with a sister-wife the fact that her brother was poisoned by her sister-in-law. "Did Wanda really poison your brother? Why?" Margene asked her. Nicki's reply was classic: "You met him."

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What is up with the weird secret society Ben is getting into with his friend? Is the friend Don Embry's son? How freaky. I loved the way Margene stood up to Boss Lady... Barb can be so annoying!

June 25 2007 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great show tonight. I was happy to see more of the lifestyle on the compound. Nicki is most definitely the most interesting character right now.
With Bill's proposal to Don, it doesn't look like the feud (or struggle for power) will ever end between him and Roman. Quite possibly an extremely smart move on Bill's part. His income depends on his public image and he's making moves to ensure long-term stability for the family in case things go wrong.
What's Rhonda up to? Lord knows she doesn't want to marry Roman and it's no wonder why. But she's clinging to the Henricksons for her salvation. Maybe because she sees Bill as the only person to ever stand up to Roman. Maybe she's hoping to be a fourth wife?
Can't wait to hear your thoughts and looking forward to next week's show.

June 25 2007 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My favorite part of this episode (or at least the most interesting) was Joey's giving himself up to the State Police. Given that he's been hitting the bottle, do you think he gave himself up to protect Wanda, to neuter Roman's threats, or in a bit of selfishness to get away from Wanda and the responsibility of being on the UEB council? Knowing that his seat would go to Bill, maybe Joey's taking the easy way out. Also, I loved Bill's comment while looking at the billboard, "I feel trapped . . . I just want a normal existence without retribution." Meredith got that totally right...how delusional can he be?

June 21 2007 at 12:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Last season, I was really sucked into the lifestyle and the sense of normalcy that the writers protrayed. This season, I find myself becoming more and more disturbed. Now the reality sets in. Barb's rebellion and sense of loss. Nikki's quick desire to step in as first wife. Margene ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble. The dynamic is sensitive and complex. I can't wait to see how it all plays out. I'd also like to see more of Margene. I think she's lost in the shadows of Barb and Nikki and that she really does have things to contribute other than filling in for whoever's got other things to do. I would love to see her wild child past come back to haunt her, or to see her finally stand up and put Nikki in her place. As for Bill and Home Plus, good luck. It's a slippery slop and I think it's going to take more than a Viagra to get him on his feet again.

June 21 2007 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think this was one of the best episodes of the entire series so far!!! The series is really hitting its stride...the writing and acting have been superb...For basically a 50 minute show...the series manages to to weave all the story lines seamlessly...I feel like every single character gets their due each week...and with so many diverse characters it makes the show a treat to watch .... ..BRAVO

June 20 2007 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When Barb was outed, only the Governor's wife and the person Roman spoke to knew. When they discussed it, they agreed that it did not need to get out. Hence, the story not getting out. Hell, Bill was trying to find out, and got nowhere [it sounds like Barb is gonna figure it out herself, I think she already has].

Bill publicly announced his association with--and expulsion from--the compound years ago. This was shown in the episode where he was asked to join the civic group, an invitation he declined. So, while some may know of the association, they also think he has been removed from that lifestyle.

Only, the compound, Don's family, and Bill's family know he is married to Nicki. No one else knows that Roman is Bill's father-in-law.

As said above, the compound is supposed to be creepy. Um...it's everyone's least favorite part of the show...foreign to most to us. I know I'm not sitting around waiting for those scenes, but they serve a purpose. Actually, I love every scene Lois is in--even if it's in the compound--so I take that back.

To really enjoy this show, I guess you have to immerse yourself into their reality and consider it normal. Then, consider all externalities (the compound, Roman, nosy neighbors, Barb's emancipation, etc.) an attack on their "normal" way of life. I could see if the show was written from the State Attorney General's perspective, but it wasn't.

Despite what you may feel about the misogynistic principles of the show, these people love each other and do not feel oppressed.

One more thing: Joey's confession was kinda smart. It neuters Roman's threats, appeases his concerns for Wanda & Lois, and...wait for it...it puts Bill on the UEB council.

June 20 2007 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dr. J

The theme of Roman's son's homosexuality was continued in his looks at the behinds of the police officers. I think this series is brilliant, and I agree that Barb's dealing with what she has agreed to is pivotal in the plot.

June 19 2007 at 11:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dr. J

The theme of Roman's son's homosexuality was continued in his looks at the behinds of the police officers. I think this series is brilliant, and I agree that Barb's dealing with what she has agreed to is pivotal in the plot.

June 19 2007 at 11:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why no mention of the creepy call from Roman's youngest wife to Barb?

June 19 2007 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
marc klink

This has to be one of, if not the best, 'family' shows on television. Not family, as in letting the kids watch, but as in seeing the machanics of the interpersonal relationships that are almost unbearably close.

As for the author feeling queasy about the compound, I believe that is the point. Bill et al are supposed to be the normal side of that lifestyle, which I see nothing wrong with. If the women agree to it, and no children are being harmed, it should be legal under freedom of religion. After all, certain Indians are allowed the use of psychedlic drugs as part of theirs, which is more normal, or less damaging?

At first, I thought this would be interesting to see the sexual relationships of the show, but this man has so many problems to solve, he deserves any sex he gets.

I also am glad I stayed with it, because through the first five episodes of the first season, I was starting to wonder why I was wasting the time. This was definitely a slow starter which, had it been on any network, never would have made it to a second season.

June 19 2007 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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